talking memoir writing at bay path university

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Friends of the Hatch Library author series at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Mass. — where I teach in the MFA in creative nonfiction program, a program from which I graduated in 2017.

I discussed my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, read an excerpt that took place in Martha’s Vineyard aloud, as well as fielded myriad questions about writing, research, and inspiration.

Thank you Bay Path for inviting me.

pittsburgh’s women on the move luncheon

Since the COVID pandemic essentially shut down the world in early 2020, I haven’t really had the opportunity to speak in front of actual, live people about my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, or about the fact that I have multiple sclerosis. Other than one event to launch the book in March 2020, all my other events have been virtual, and, given the circumstances, that’s entirely reasonable.

Then the Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society invited me to speak at their annual Woman on the Move luncheon for Sept. 29, 2021. The event would occur after we’d had our COVID vaccines. The event would be outdoors. And when not sitting at the tables or speaking at the podium, most folks would wear face masks.

Now that the event has concluded (and I can breathe again … I was low-key terrified about speaking to tell you the truth), I’m experiencing a rush of joy at having been able to not just share my MS experience with others, but about seeing and speaking with fellow MS patients. It’s like a fellowship of sorts, a collection of people who just get it, who understand the unpredictable and chronic nature of the disease, who understand heat sensistivity and what it’s like when you hit a wall of fatigue.

For instance, I spoke with a Pennsylvania man who, despite having MS, has run four marathons, including the Boston Marathon. After my speech — in which I mentioned I have MS-induced heat sensitivity — he wanted to show me photos of how he was able to regulate his temperature while running the marathon (sleeves and a baseball hat filled with ice that would be replenished at different stops along the marathon route).

Several people shared that they, like me, were initially disbelieved or dismissed when they sought medical help for what they feared was multiple sclerosis.

Two nurses who work with MS patients were bursting with pride about their vocation, while someone who does physical therapy with MS patients slipped me her business card and told me she’d be reaching out to me with some advice.

I even got to speak with CBS affiliate KDKA-2 News Anchor Ken Rice — the event emcee — about journalism and baseball, two of my favorite subjects.

Everything from the orange gift bags on the tables — which included candy Boston baked beans (because I’m from the Boston area) and little notebooks (because I’m a writer) — to the authentic warmth everyone exuded, it became shockingly clear to me why so many of us have deeply and vicerally missed being in one another’s presence and why having to understandably be relegated to the safety our COVID bubbles has been painful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not running around and partying maskless. I wear my mask outside, indoors (except when eating), and in the classrooms where I teach. (I’m one of the few folks who even wear them to baseball games.) I’ll get a booster shot as soon as I am able. But being with people today at this Women on the Move luncheon made me realize, man, have I missed people!

talking women & health with authors & poets

Author Christina Chiu — who wrote the powerful Beauty (do yourself a favor and read it!) — invited three writers to tackle the topic of women & health, while she also shared candid stories of her own illness, as well as her son’s experiences with food allergies.

Among her guests:

Sandra Beasley, the author of the memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, and more recently, Made to Explode: Poems, spoke about her food allergies and how she has embraced her disability as a part of her identity.

Poet Julie E. Bloemeke — whose collection of poems, Slide to Unlock, “investigates how modern technology redirects our erotic and familial lives” — discussed not only how she dealt with depression, but how it and various therapies for it influenced her writing.

I, meanwhile, read aloud a section of my multiple sclerosis-centric memoir Uncomfortably Numb where the neurologist who first examined me — after an MRI showed a lesion on my brainstem — suggested that my symptoms of numbness were likely “psychosomatic.”

I hope the discussion helps give people with illnesses and/or disabilities some sense that they are not alone.

why did i wait so long to join a support group?

My latest post for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s publication, Momentum Magazine, describes my initial reluctance — fueled by fear — to join an MS support group. But after attending several online support groups to promote my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, I realized I was missing out.

Here’s how the piece begins:

I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in July 2014. Upon receiving my diagnosis, I reached out to the National MS Society for information. Included in the materials I received were contact details for MS support groups in my area. But despite the fact that I was perfectly able to attend a support group, I resisted.

Why?

I was petrified to sit, face-to-face, with my potential future.

Read the whole piece here.

got readers on your holiday list? give ’em signed books from an indie bookstore

Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA has signed copies of three of my books (a memoir, a novel and a work of nonfiction) for sale, just in time for the readers on your holiday lists. Given that COVID has severely affected small businesses like independent bookstores, I’m sure they’d appreciate your support.

Signed books include:

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir about the life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis Kindle Edition

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir. My medical memoir about the life-altering impact of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. It chronicles the two years it took to get an MS diagnosis and confirmation that the symptoms I was experiencing weren’t simply in my imagination (as one physician suggested), as well as the uneasy piece I reached an uneasy peace with my post-MS life.

Mr. Clark's Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears, and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room Kindle Edition

Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. A book about the 2012-2013 school year I shadowed the Southborough, MA middle school jazz band as they were recovering from mourning the sudden death of one of their own, a 12-year-old trumpet player named Eric Green. This award-winning book would be great for any educators on your list.

Mortified: a book about oversharing by [Meredith O'Brien]

Mortified: a novel about oversharing. Set in 2004 at the height of mommy blogging, this darkly humorous work of contemporary fiction follows a thirtysomething mom of two who started venting about her frustration with modern parenting through her blog. When her family discovers the unkind things she’s been writing about them online, well, all hell breaks loose.

springfield (ma) paper features ‘uncomfortably numb’

Screenshot 2020-05-25 19.09.33The Republican — the daily newspaper for which I used to work way back in the day, back when it was called The Union-News –ran a feature story about my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, and my experiences with MS.

Here’s how it begins:

In her new book, Uncomfortably Numb: A memoir about the life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis,” West Springfield native Meredith O’Brien describes how she went overboard one Christmas season after a semester teaching ended and she proceeded to tackle “a ton of activities, too many, actually.”

Fatigue hit her hard while she was watching her son at a Christmas musical event at the high school in Southborough where she now lives. “Quite quickly, my thinking became foggy and my legs were on the verge of giving out,” O’Brien recalls. “I had to ask my husband to drive me home immediately. I spent the next several days in bed, unable to do what I wanted because my body needed the rest.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

Thank you to editor Cynthia Simison –who was my bureau chief in the Westfield, MA bureau — and to writer Cori Urban for the piece.

The article includes a plug for my June 1, 1-2 p.m. webinar with Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction to discuss “The Art of the Medical Memoir.” Sign up for the free webinar here.

Image credit: The Republican.

 

june 1: free webinar on ‘narrative medicine and the art of the medical memoir’

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I’ll be joining award-winning author, Bay Path University writer-in-residence and faculty member, the wonderful Suzanne Strempek Shea on June 1 for a free webinar where we’ll discuss “Narrative Medicine and the Art of the Medical Memoir.”

Hosted by Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction program, the one-hour webinar, from 1-2 p.m., is open to the public. Register here.

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Strempek Shea is the author of many books including Songs from a Lead-Lined Room: Notes — High and Low — From My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation, a memoir writer Anita Shreve called, “one of those books that changes your life forever.”

Writer Michael Carlton said in Yankee Magazine, Songs from a Lead-Lined Room “is one of the most moving and important books ever written about the extraordinary pressures the disease places not only on the victim, but on family and friends as well.”

Strempek Shea and I worked together at the Springfield, MA daily newspaper, The Republican, and she has written blurbs for a number of my books. It was our connection that resulted in my attending and graduating from the Bay Path University MFA in creative nonfiction program, which she was instrumental in creating.

Please join us for a warm conversation between friends about the craft of writing about the innately personal topics of illness and medicine.

Image credits: Bay Path University MFA in creative nonfiction program, Amazon.

scenes from a virtual author event

sboro library talk4

The Southborough Library and Recreation Departments co-hosted a virtual author event via Zoom where I discussed my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, and fielded questions ranging from inquiries about multiple sclerosis to questions about the writing process.

I read several short excerpts from the memoir, including one about how, in the confusing aftermath of my MS diagnosis, I became obsessed with getting a second dog — a puppy — whom we named Tedy Wilson (after the New England Patriots’ Tedy Bruschi).

Now 5 years old, Tedy made a guest appearance.

sboro library talk1

Image credits: Ryan Donovan, Southborough Library, via Zoom.